N Brown's switch to digital-first model on track

JD Williams, Simply Be, Jacamo and Figleaves parent company N Brown saw year-on-year group revenue rise by 2.5% in the first quarter of its financial year, with the online part of its business driving top-line growth.

Like-for-like sales for the online, catalogue and stores retailer increased by 1.5%, as it continued on its journey to becoming a digital-first retail business.

A statement detailing the trading figures for the 13 weeks to 29 May 2015 also indicated that the company's systems transformation project, dubbed Fit 4 the Future, is on track and to budget – but a more detailed update will be provided at the interim results later in the year.

Like fellow direct mail business Shop Direct, online retailing at N Brown is usurping its catalogue arm. Shop Direct CEO Alex Baldock announced in May that his company is to stop publishing catalogues after more than 80 years, and N Brown has pulled back investment in its print offering.

In Q1 N Brown said that 68% of new shopper demand was generated online, while online sales penetration totalled 62%. Both figures would appear to suggest that the future of the business is in online retail, although CEO Angela Spindler is currently undertaking a store efficiency review to monitor how to develop the company's bricks and mortar portfolio.

Spindler said: "We have had an encouraging start to the year, but there remains a lot to do.

"We have seen double-digit growth in both Simply Be and Jacamo as the shift from support brands to our power brands continues. Although revenues were slightly down year-on-year, JD Williams continues to show signs of progress with new recruits up 27%."

She added: "Our strategy remains on track. During the quarter we continued to streamline our organisation and our processes to embed a digital-first model."

From an online perspective, there was an increase in order frequency and units per basket, which N Brown said partially offset the impact of average selling price declines. Mobile devices now generate 57% of all traffic, and the retailer indicated that basket abandonment rates have improved on each device type.

Turnover in the US was up 31% year-on-year, or 18% on a constant currency basis, ahead of a new international web platform going live in mid-2016.